London’s National Gallery has announced that the decision to dismiss claims by heirs of the family of Greta Moll, over a portrait by Henri Matisse is a welcomed solution to a high-profile case. The verdict made in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York yesterday, 21 September 2017.
“We are proud to have Matisse’s superb ‘Portrait of Greta Moll’ on show to the public in Trafalgar Square – Dr Gabriele Finaldi
The National Gallery acquired ‘Portrait of Greta Moll’ by Matisse on behalf of the British public in 1979. The Gallery purchased the work from a commercial gallery in London in good faith and is its rightful owner. Before the 1979 purchase, the painting was exhibited and published on some occasions.
Since then this much-loved painting has been on display free of charge for millions of visitors to enjoy each year, and it can be appreciated today in Room 41 of our Trafalgar Square building.
We understand that both Greta Moll and her husband were living in Germany during the Second World War. Some years after the war ended, and following the death of her husband in August 1947 (when the family say the painting was still in their possession), Greta Moll moved to Wales. This case, therefore, does not concern Nazi-looted art.
Had there been any suggestion that the family lost the painting as a result of Nazi persecution, the family’s claims would have been considered by the UK Spoliation Advisory Panel, which was set up specifically to deal with such cases. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport however expressly declined, in 2015, to refer the case to the Panel, since he found that it falls outside the Panel’s remit.
The Moll family themselves have acknowledged that they have known of the painting’s location for decades and over the years since we bought the painting, we have had contact with a number of them. One of Greta Moll’s daughters was photographed in front of the painting in 1992. In 1995, another of her daughters was in correspondence with the Gallery about the fact that her mother preferred the name ‘Marg’ to Grete or Greta Moll. At no point was it ever suggested to us that the painting had been stolen from the family, or that the family had any concerns with the painting being on display here at the National Gallery. We only became aware of these when we received a letter from US lawyers acting for them in 2011.
At that stage, the National Gallery shared information with the family’s lawyers which we held on the provenance of the painting, and we invited them to come to the Gallery to inspect all the papers we hold about its history and provenance.
The decision of the New York court of 21 September upheld the arguments made by the Gallery that there was no justification for bringing litigation in the USA. The court also confirmed that it was far too late for the heirs to bring a case now, given that the family has been aware of the location of the painting for many decades.
Director of the National Gallery, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, says: “We are proud to have Matisse’s superb ‘Portrait of Greta Moll’ on show to the public in Trafalgar Square. It is there for all to admire and enjoy.”
Chair of the National Gallery Board of Trustees, Hannah Rothschild, added:
“The Board of Trustees of the National Gallery are delighted that the decision of the New York court fully upheld the Gallery’s arguments in this case and that the painting can remain in the Gallery where it can be enjoyed by the Gallery’s many visitors from around the world.”